Fah Thai March 2014 - page 37

he fragile network of coral reefs that
extends across the Maldives is the
lifeblood of the country. These delicate
structures are home to vast populations
of marine life, including sharks, turtles,
crustaceans and over 2,000 species of tropical
fish, making them the republic’s top tourist
attraction. They’re also its most vulnerable.
One of the biggest threats to the ecosystem
of the 1,190 atolls that make up the Maldives is
the destruction of its coral reefs. Unhealthy coral
reefs threaten the survival of marine life, lead
to the erosion of beaches and greatly diminish
the Maldives’ appeal as a holiday hotspot.
Thankfully, key figures in marine conservation
in the Maldives are working, with support from
tourists, to maintain the symbiotic relationship
between reefs, sea-life and travellers.
At Cocoa Island, a luxury resort by COMO
Hotels and Resorts in South Malé Atoll, guests
can play a key part in marine conservation by
sponsoring coral frames. Consisting of a metal
base onto which tiny pieces of broken coral are
transplanted, specially designed coral frames
enable new colonies to evolve. In time, they
become whole, healthy sections of coral reef.
The special propagation process used at
Cocoa Island was designed and developed by
Seamarc marine consultancy company, which is
based in Malé. Guests are kept up to date on the
development of their coral frame via the hotel’s
growth can be seen within two months.
“It’s a great way of helping guests to understand
and interact more with the environment,” says
Cocoa Island diving instructor Darren Picknell.
“We do the whole process together with the
guests; we collect the pieces of coral together,
show them how we put them on the frames and
explain to them how they grow and why they’re
so important to the islands.
“Without coral, there’s no fish and without fish
there’s no coral. The reefs are also home to other
creatures including crabs and crustaceans; they
protect the islands against erosion and storms,
and they’re very important to tourism.”
Darren is responsible for uploading images of
the growing coral frames to the website every six
months so guests can monitor the coral’s growth.
He takes returning guests on guided snorkelling
tours to view their frame.
Guests can choose from a selection of frames,
which vary in size. Single frames can be sponsored
for US$150, there’s a romantic “couples frame”
for US$300 and a family frame for US$500.
Non-guests can also sponsor frames and monitor
their progress online. All of the revenue raised
from the Coral Frame Sponsorship Programme
goes to the Environment Fund, which supports
Cocoa Island’s marine conservation research
programmes and local community projects.
The biggest threat to coral reefs is posed
by increasing sea surface temperatures,
which are due to warmer-than-normal
climatic conditions and El Niño. This
causes mass coral bleaching, which is
devastating for the entire ecosystem.
Even the tiniest temperature change can
bleach the coral. Humankind is largely to
blame for the destruction of reefs, be it
the result of boaters lodging anchors in
the reef, snorkellers standing on the coral
and knocking it with their fins, pollution
or construction work. There
s also a
natural threat in the form of crown-of-
thorns starfish, which consume hard
coral polyps by liquefying them with
digestive enzymes. Just one adult starfish
can devour 6m² of coral per year.
Why are
the reefs
Check out our
destination guide
on page 117
and book
your flights at
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